20 Twenties Tweaks: #18 - How to Hack it in NYC in Your Twenties
I’ve lived in New York City these last 8 years. Before then I had visited rarely and only on day trips. I had never thought I’d ever live in a city and now I’m comfortable in the biggest one.
Early on, I overheard someone at a bar say you were a ‘New Yorker’ after 7 years. Of course this is a much debated issue. Real New Yorkers say it can only be bequeathed by birth, or real estate, or it’s 10 years, or when you’ve lived here longer than anywhere else. It’s all those things and more and won’t ever be resolved. To me, it’s just whenever you feel like one.
I can’t tell you when that was for me, but moving between 3 boroughs in 10 months of 2010 made me feel like I was becoming one. Doing one last Craigslist search WITH Broker, just in case, led us to where we’ve lived (cheaper per month w/fee than similar non-fee places) now in Brooklyn for almost 4 years. It’s where I’ve been the happiest in NYC.
One lesson I’ve learned I was most prepared for:
- Treat NYC like college: your dorm room is small but the campus is huge and always has more things going on that you could possibly attend, but you’re paying so much to be there you have to try.
- Trying to enjoy living here but not spending money is like riding Splash Mountain but trying not to get wet: possible, but not much fun, and besides the point.
And here’s a list of more specific hacks I’ve learned along those lines:
- If you can’t think of a good reason to stay at crowded bar besides being thirsty, then go to another one. Life’s too short. And don’t tip less than $1 a drink, ever. That’s a good habit to start immediately.
- Embrace city sized limitations. Everyone’s apartment is too small for them. Stop buying new stuff. Purge the old regularly. This is why you see books outside every stoop. People have moved on, to your benefit.
- A absolute must is a reliable Weekend Bag you bring on the subway and to work and then straight to your adventure. I have switched permanently to backpacks (GORUCK brand, lifetime guarantee, easy to pack, light on back) but find what works for you when you’re crammed into a full subway car on your way to work. If it can’t fit in your weekend bag then you don’t need it for the weekend.
- Use your time on the subway platform better. Plan where you’ll want to get off the train for your future transfer or exit. When you take the same line enough you’ll remember. I use the app Exit Strategy to help with unfamiliar stops. At minimum have a reliable subway map app for offline use underground - no one has the whole system memorized.
- Learn how to get away. Day trips to beaches in Long Island or New Jersey. Day trips to hiking in Hudson County north of the city. Camping via car, train, or cab to close local sites. Keep friends in other cities. Discover the North Fork. Get out occasionally to stay sane and appreciate the city when you return.
- Put your regular food stops in your phone. Call in your to bagel or pizza order as you’re en route to them so you’re not waiting in line for the regular when you get there. When you walk past everyone standing around the counter waiting and pick up your ready to go food, you’ll feel a small victory.
- Sign up for the free Cool NYC A/C Unit offering. It’ll be worth that one time appointment to set up your units with wifi enabled electrical modules when you can turn them on via the app before you head home to a cool apartment. (Program actually intended to cut down electrical costs and I’m sure it does).
- Justify paying for cable by considering the difference in expense between beers at home and beers at the bar. And then go in for only really big games. All soccer games are really big games.
- Everyone needs a messenger bag in a city. It’s like everything you would usually keep around the front seat of your car that you don’t have. When you leave in the morning and come back late at night, you’ll have needed that book, umbrella, sunglasses, snack, etc. Also, buy a nice umbrella as a smart investment.
- Make sure you get a local bank. I learned the hard way when I had my wallet taken and couldn’t get cash out of anywhere for a subway pass. Consider ATM fees. That’s why I got Chase, there’s a million of those ATMs.
- If you can, get on a schedule where you’re buying your subway monthly pass on any other date than the first/beginning of the month when there’s long lines of everyone else refilling theirs.
- If you’re tired at the end of the night resist the open seats for the subway ride home. Stand on the subway and you won’t fall asleep. Sit down and you may wake up at the other end of the line. If your pockets aren’t cut out (happened to me! See, losing wallet) consider yourself lucky and don’t do it again. This is where cabs can be worth their expense.
- Schedule your credit card payments after the middle of the month so that you’re paying Rent on the 1st and your debt after the 15th. Most credit cards are flexible on when to set up payment due dates.
- If it starts raining and you aren’t already in a cab, forget about it. Use that time walking to the nearest subway, not standing on the corner frustrated and wet. Ain’t gonna happen buddy.
- When it’s anywhere near rush hour it’ll still be faster to take the A subway to the AirTran to JFK than a cab. For LGA take the F,M,E,R,7 train to Roosevelt Ave stop in Queens and then the bus one stop. Newark, take the PATH. When you’re walking out of the airplane gate and want to avoid the Taxi Line, call a car service so that it’ll be there as you walk out.
- Sign up for the daily TheSkint email. There’s hundreds of events listings and newsletters in NYC but over the years I’ve found this to be the least fluffy, most reliable, and targeted towards my interests in booze, books, movies, music, comedy, and affordable. Something every day that you’d want to see, I promise.
- The best view of the Statue of Liberty is free by taking the Staten Island Ferry to SI and back. You can buy a beer onboard and wave hello and goodbye to Lady Liberty. I just love a good ferry.
- My “Go-Bag” has a picnic blanket, seat backs, a corkscrew, and plastic cups. Be ready to picnic/see an outdoor movie/concert at any time. They happen more often than you could possibly keep up. Assign one attendee the booze, one the food/snacks, and one person to get there early and scout out a space. 30 mins prior isn’t early. Even an hour barely counts as early.
- You may resist it but sign up for that damn Rite Aid/CVS/Duane Reade loyalty card. You’ll be back and you’ll appreciated the earned savings on toilet paper and shampoo.
- Ship things to your office. Unless you have a doorman or love chasing packages all over the city, you’ll save so much more time just by bringing things home from work in your messenger bag. My mail in Brooklyn doesn’t even deliver every day when it should. I just got last week’s New Yorker today.
- Be patient and flexible. You can’t control when the subways will arrive and how crowded they will inevitably be when they get there. Always have a backup route and give yourself lots of time to get where you’re going (and bring a book of course). NYC is an exercise in what you cannot control. It’ll help you pick your battles when you realize that EVERYONE is in the same boat as you. Relax.
- If interviewing in the summer, take an air-conditioned cab TO the interview and then subway back. Trust me, I had 3 interviews during the first week of August 2006 when the NYC heat wave was taking lives by the dozens.
- Keep a shared updated Google calendar. When you make plans, put them in there. When you’re in a relationship, these plans affect someone else. This way they’ll know when you’re already committed, what you’ve committed to doing together, and it’s as good as gold in planning as well as defending your plans. If it’s not in the calendar it’s not real. Have a Me, You, Together label/calendar and use it religiously. Andrea and I started ours long before we moved in together. This isn’t an option.
- Get the free Venmo app for sharing money between friends. It’s the easiest way to split a cab, bill, food delivery, or pay back for tickets I’ve found; a bank agnostic faster PayPal for paying people back.
- Bring your booze to the food or the food to your booze. In other words, seek out the BYOB restaurant in your area. Or call and pick up food on your way home. And don’t ignore the power of Seamless for ordering in - it’s delightful and so easy/worth it.
- Join something or start something worth joining. I played several seasons on the WAKA (World Adult Kickball Association) because one old HS friend was captain and recruited me. I spent every Wednesday out until 1am with a whole group of strangers that loved and supported each other. I joined a Zogsports dodgeball league down the street from my apartment based on that proximity alone and got to know my neighbors. Membership comes with a tshirt and a built-in family. Sign up.
What NYC hacks have you figured out on your own?
*I’m posting daily one hack/tweak I’ve discovered and integrated into my life during the last decade as I lead up to my 30th birthday on the 28th. Here’s all of the #20sTweaks so far.
I think I’ve been on a parallel track next to peterwknox, it’s fascinating how I’ve picked up on many of these same protips during my nearly-three years here in the City. I still think of myself as a Midwest guy living in New York, but every day I experience something that makes me love this city a little bit more.
Great tips, and great insight into life here in New York.